Rock Racing team owner Michael Ball called a press conference at the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto today to discuss, according to a team spokesman, “the Rock racing team for 2008, some of the anti-doping policies and integrity of Rock Racing, the changes needed in the sport today, specifically the need for a rider’s union and rider’s rights, a new business model for cycling and finally, what Rock Racing is doing with the ‘Rock the Cure’ (program) in terms of giving back to the community, and finally the responsibility we all have to change the face of cycling.”
Ball, clad in the neon green and black team Rock Racing kit, took a seat at the front of the filled room with a sheet of notes and a clip-on microphone. He started with saying “each of the athletes on the team make me proud, first and foremost, and are just really great guys.”
Things moved quickly as he first introduced the team for the upcoming Tour of California. According to Ball, the team will be comprised of Santiago Botero, Oscar Sevilla, Tyler Hamilton, Freddie Rodriguez, Victor Hugo Pena, Doug Ollerenshaw, Michael Creed and Mario Cipollini. Mariano Fredricks will direct the team, and Ball thanked “one of the individuals in this room for stepping aside and moving on to whatever he does in the future, thank you.” The “certain individual in attendance” was none other than Frankie Andreau, the former team director of the Rock team who resigned suddenly before the beginning of the 2008 season. Andreau listened passively toward the back of the room, his face remaining void of emotion, as Ball spoke.
Ball then went on to address the anti-doping policies of the Rock team. Using the term “first and foremost” again, a clearly agitated Ball expressed that “the individual’s rights are where I stand. There are no pending doping cases by the UCI or any other respective federation against any, and I mean any, of our riders in this Tour.”
With a heavy sigh, he continued. “A union needs to be formed.” And in what would be a common theme for the rest of the conference, he clarified, “I don’t want to get into specifics, but with a union, comes security. Meaning, that athletes that cross the line, that may make some bad decisions, aren’t outed. The issue is to control the sport from within, not from the outside. That’s how it should be done, it’s good for business.”
Addressing doping in the peloton, he stated “If an individual crosses the line, they are sanctioned, they are suspended, there is jeopardy in terms of crossing that line, but again, do it from within, period. The past, for me, is the past. It’s time for this sport to move forward. You’re innocent until proven guilty. It’s time to make a difference in this sport, period.” After a sigh-filled commentary about “unjust behavior of governing bodies and individuals,” the forum was opened up for questions from the media.
Hungering for some concrete answers, members of the press immediately addressed the issue of only six riders, Hamilton, Sevilla, Cipollini and Botero not among those listed, being named on the official Tour of California race roster. Non-plussed, Ball denied any contact from Amgen, the title sponsor. “You’d have to ask them at this point. I’m steadfast in my guys riding.” After again naming the roster, the topic moved to whether Ball will bring rider’s not listed on the official roster to the prologue start line on Sunday. Realizing his position, Ball said, “That’s a tough question. They’re speaking to me personally then . . . it will be a tough decision, I can’t say right now. It will be a very tough next 24 hours, very tough.” Pressed on the subject after the official conference, Ball would say only “We ride as a team. We ride together or we don’t,” suggesting that if any of his riders are not allowed to start that he’ll pull the entire Rock Racing team.
In what should make for a dramatic opening day to the 2008 Tour of California, Ball may be left with no choice but to choose between some of his riders competing in the TOC, or voluntarily pulling them all out and allowing none of them to ride. But at the end of the day, Ball said it himself. “I’m a business man. I’ll sell a ton of product. I’ll make a ton of money. And I’ll treat this as a lesson.” Good or bad, the Rock Racing team is front and center at the Tour of California before a single kilometer has been ridden. Stay tuned to Bicycle.net and europeloton.com for continuing coverage of the Tour of California.”